Navigating the Love of a Father
My dad was pretty cheesy. I guess that means cheesiness is in my genes. This may also explain why I am incredibly corny myself.
With my dad, however, this mostly showed up in two ways. The first is he never wrote a card. Instead, he preferred to give Hallmark cards with detailed cliché messages already written in. This is very much the opposite of me. I like to get a card with the shortest amount of text possible and then fill in the blank space to overflowing with a personal, heartfelt note. I never liked that he chose to give me the corny words of greeting card writers to mark birthdays and other special occasions. Why would he not take the time to write a personal message in his cards?
The other silly thing my dad loved to do was force me to listen to the songs he enjoyed. Love songs were his favorite, but Country Music would also enter the rotation. Once, he called my brother and me into the living room to play a new song that was sweeping the dance floors of America. Then blasted Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” from the two giant speakers in the living room. He would also play songs like Garth Brook’s, “The Dance.” In the car, he would quiet me down to listen to “That’s My Job” by Conway Twitty when it came on the radio.
Eventually, my dad became very devout in his faith. Christian music replaced the country songs he required me to listen to with undivided attention. I am so thankful for this change in his life. Without him making the decision to follow Christ, I would not be serving God today.
Rules, Demands, and Discipline
At the same time, I still didn’t know how to deal with my feelings towards my dad. He was harsh. Often, he was mean and controlling. That softened a bit when he became more serious about his faith, but that part of him never really went away. The anger and intensity were always just beneath the surface.
Our home was strict. While full of rules and hard-work, it wasn’t absent of love and fun. We laughed with and at each other. I would never say my dad was affectionate, though. This isolated us from each other.
Before living with my dad as a teenager, I spent my early years with my mom. My three guardian angels during that time were my mom, grandmother, and aunt. Being raised primarily by three females may be why I so strongly crave affection and expressions of feelings from those around me. That was something I didn’t really get from my dad. Mostly just rules, demands, and discipline.
Seeing Through a New Lens
One day, towards the end of my dad’s life, I noticed a book on the counter of his kitchen. It was for Adult Children of Alcoholics. It took a moment for that to sink in. Then the realization came over me like a splash of cold water. My dad was raised by an abusive alcoholic. Just because he was my dad, it didn’t mean he was over the hurts of his dad. The wounds and the gore of that kind of childhood were seeping through the cracks of the life he was trying to build, and even into his role as my father.
At that moment, I felt compassion for my dad, and I saw his shortcomings through a new lens. He couldn’t give me the affection he never received but did his best despite his own experience with his father.
All of a sudden, those cheesy greeting cards and times he made me stop playing video games to listen to his music took on new meaning. He didn’t have the vocabulary to give me the fatherly intimacy I so desperately needed. So he used Hallmark cards and tear jerker Country Music songs to pass on the parts of himself that were important to him.
Choosing Your Compass
My dad wasn’t cheesy or superficial. He was doing the best he could with the tools he had amid the pain he didn’t know how to deal with. I am learning more and more that these are the choppy waters every parent has to navigate their love for their children through. Our ships sail in winds of legacy and pain. What we focus on becomes the compass that guides on these mysterious seas.
When it comes to my dad, I choose legacy instead of hurt; love instead of frustration. If my kids use the same measure of forgiveness towards me and my mistakes that I have used for my dad, then I want it to be as generous as possible. I think that is the only way we make it to the treasure of a lasting legacy.